Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Star Trek Voyager

Gene Roddenbury the founder of the proliferating Star Trek franchise was a comitted agnostic and humanist and, thus, might be a mite unhappy about the branching out into the domain of the religious and mystical but it happened in any case. You cannot determine the life of your own creations (as I know only too well). One of the first episodes of , to my mind, the best branch of the franchise, Voyager, has the second officer, Chakotay, a Native American, introducing his captain to her 'sacred guide animal'! Fine by me but for Gene?

However, the striking feature of Star Trek is how the values established at the outset continue to inform the whole. As the Pope remarked recently, the good is not the exclusive possession of the religious (indeed the Catholic) and Star Trek is a consistent exploration of what it might be to uphold and live the good as an ideal.

The original series established that the good embraced cultural and racial difference as a given (ground breaking in the 60's in an America emerging from sanctioned racial segregation and locked in conflict with the other) and this persists as a common thread throughout.

In Voyager the good life includes a radical sense of shared community - the disparate crew seeking together their home - that requires them to test the 'Federation's principles' against the stark reality of the unfamiliar. Any community lives (and dies) within the careful negotiation of belief and the stuff that happens. Too rigid an adherence kills, too loose an adherence dissipates.

Each episode is a parable of what it might mean to be fully 'human' (and one of the tensions in the whole series is the paradox by which ' humanity'  is and is not the measure of all things). Thus in one episode the crew find themselves on a planet devoted to (apparent) hospitality only to discover that the purpose of this is to feed the host's sensuality. Can hospitality stand on the back of narcissism? To which the answer is, of course, no. However, in the process you find yourself considering what does it require of you to be the host? What does welcoming entail? What is the legitimate boundary between the pleasure in it and the duty?

What I find consistently remarkable is the ability of the series to weave lesson and drama and occupy a space of popular entertainment. The founder of the BBC, Lord Reith, famously saw it as the mission of the Corporation to educate as well as entertain, I suggest that Star Trek would be his perfect product if by education was meant an assimilation not of fact but of value.

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